So I’m working on a still life as a gift for my brother and my sister and law. They used to blow glass (hey, Steve and Linda, if you’re reading this—are you ever going to get back to glass again?). Anyway, the subject of the still life is two lovely glass Christmas ornaments that they gave me some time ago. It seems like a nice full-circle kind of gift. (Yes, I know it’s late.)
The two ornaments are sitting on a yellow comforter. Since that takes up the foreground, middle ground (except for the ornaments) and background, most of the composition consists of yellow fabric. It’s an oil painting on a gessoed hardboard panel.
On my first pass, I messed up the color of the yellow. For the lights, I used mostly ochres, especially Doak’s wonderful French ochre extra pale. In the darks, I used raw sienna, bunt umber, and raw umber. That was a lot of time panting complex folds of fabric, and while I was doing it it seemed fine to me. The next day, it just looked wrong. After some thought, I realized that I had screwed up the chroma of the darks, making them too dull. When I focus on the darks, they look pretty low in chroma. But when I painted that dullness, it became clear that the overall relationship between the chroma in the darks with the chroma in the light was wrong. That can happen when the difference between one color and another is subtle, but repeated throughout a painting. An error that would not be noticeable if it was in only one part of a painting looks really huge if the same problem repeats itself over and over.
So I went back over the fabric parts of the painting (after wet sanding for good adhesion from one layer to the next) and re-painted, paying more careful attention to chroma. For darks, I used yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue instead of umbers. That worked much better.
I am no hater of umbers; for really low-chroma yellows, they are hard to beat (some artists think that umbers are “deadening” colors just like black is purported to be). But in this case, they were not the right tool for the job.